A wild, masterful Pulitzer Prize-winning cycle of poems that half a century later still shocks and astounds
John Berryman was hardly unknown when he published 77 Dream Songs, but the volume was, nevertheless, a shock and a revelation. A "spooky" collection in the words of Robert Lowell-"a maddening work of genius."
As Henri Cole notes in his elegant, perceptive introduction, Berryman had discovered "a looser style that mixed high and low dictions with a strange syntax." Berryman had also discovered his most enduring alter ego, a paranoid, passionate, depressed, drunk, irrepressible antihero named Henry or, sometimes, Mr. Bones: "We touch at certain points," Berryman claimed, of Henry, "But I am an actual human being."
Henry may not be real, but he comes alive on the page. And while the most famous of the Dream Songs begins, "Life, friends, is boring," these poems never are. Henry lusts: seeing a woman "Filling her compact & delicious body / with chicken páprika" he can barely restrain himself: "only the fact of her husband & four other people / kept me from springing on her." Henry despairs: "All the world like a woolen lover / once did seem on Henry's side. / Then came a departure." Henry, afraid of his own violent urges, consoles himself: "Nobody is ever missing."
77 Dream Songs won the Pulitzer Prize in 1965, but Berryman's formal and emotional innovations-he cracks the language open, creates a new idiom in which to express eternal feelings-remain as alive and immediate today as ever.
About the Author
John Berryman (1914–1972) was an American poet and scholar. He won the Pulitzer Prize for 77 Dream Songs in 1965 and the National Book Award and the Bollingen Prize for His Toy, His Dream, His Rest in 1969. Henri Cole was born in Fukuoka, Japan, and raised in Virginia. He has published eight collections of poetry and received many awards for his work, including the Jackson Prize, the Kingsley Tufts Award, the Rome Prize, the Berlin Prize, a Guggenheim Fellowship, and the Lenore Marshall Award. His most recent collection is Touch (FSG, 2011). He is poetry editor of The New Republic and lives in Boston.
Read an Excerpt
77 Dream Songs
By John Berryman
Farrar, Straus and GirouxCopyright © 2014 Henri Cole
All rights reserved.
Huffy Henry hid the day,
unappeasable Henry sulked.
I see his point, — a trying to put things over.
It was the thought that they thought
they could do it made Henry wicked & away.
But he should have come out and talked.
All the world like a woolen lover
once did seem on Henry's side.
Then came a departure.
Thereafter nothing fell out as it might or ought.
I don't see how Henry, pried
open for all the world to see, survived.
What he has now to say is a long
wonder the world can bear & be.
Once in a sycamore I was glad
all at the top, and I sang.
Hard on the land wears the strong sea
and empty grows every bed.
Big Buttons, Cornets: the advance
The jane is zoned! no nightspot here, no bar
there, no sweet freeway, and no premises
for business purposes,
no loiterers or needers. Henry are
baffled. Have ev'ybody head for Maine,
utility-man take a train?
Arrive a time when all coons lose dere grip,
but is he come? Le's do a hoedown, gal,
one blue, one shuffle,
if them is all you seem to réquire. Strip,
ol banger, skip us we, sugar; so hang on
one chaste evenin.
— Sir Bones, or Galahad: astonishin
yo legal & yo good. Is you feel well?
Honey dusk do sprawl.
— Hit's hard. Kinged or thinged, though, fling & wing.
Poll-cats are coming, hurrah, hurray.
I votes in my hole.
A Stimulant for an Old Beast
Acacia, burnt myrrh, velvet, pricky stings.
— I'm not so young but not so very old,
said screwed-up lovely 23.
A final sense of being right out in the cold,
(— My psychiatrist can lick your psychiatrist.) Women get under things.
All these old criminals sooner or later
have had it. I've been reading old journals.
Gottwald & Co., out of business now.
Thick chests quit. Double agent, Joe.
She holds her breath like a seal
and is whiter & smoother.
Rilke was a jerk.
I admit his griefs & music
& titled spelled all-disappointed ladies.
A threshold worse than the circles
where the vile settle & lurk,
Rilke's. As I said, —
Filling her compact & delicious body
with chicken páprika, she glanced at me
Fainting with interest, I hungered back
and only the fact of her husband & four other people
kept me from springing on her
or falling at her little feet and crying
'You are the hottest one for years of night
Henry's dazed eyes
have enjoyed, Brilliance.' I advanced upon
(despairing) my spumoni. — Sir Bones: is stuffed,
de world, wif feeding girls.
— Black hair, complexion Latin, jewelled eyes
downcast ... The slob beside her feasts ... What wonders is
she sitting on, over there?
The restaurant buzzes. She might as well be on Mars.
Where did it all go wrong? There ought to be a law against Henry.
— Mr. Bones: there is.
Henry sats in de bar & was odd,
off in the glass from the glass,
at odds wif de world & its god,
his wife is a complete nothing,
Henry sats in de plane & was gay.
Careful Henry nothing said aloud
but where a Virgin out of cloud
to her Mountain dropt in light,
his thought made pockets & the plane buckt.
'Parm me, lady.' 'Orright.'
Henry lay in de netting, wild,
while the brainfever bird did scales;
Mr Heartbreak, the New Man,
come to farm a crazy land;
an image of the dead on the fingernail
of a newborn child.
A Capital at Wells
During the father's walking — how he look
down by now in soft boards, Henry, pass
and what he feel or no, who know? —
as during hís broad father's, all the breaks
& ill-lucks of a thriving pioneer
back to the flying boy in mountain air,
Vermont's child to go out, and while Keats sweat'
for hopeless inextricable lust, Henry's fate,
and Ethan Allen was a calling man,
all through the blind one's dream of the start,
when Day was killing Porter and had to part
lovers for ever, fancy if you can,
while the cardinals' guile to keep Aeneas out
was failing, while in some hearts Chinese doubt
inscrutably was growing, toward its end,
and a starved lion by a water-hole
clouded with gall, while Abelard was whole,
these grapes of stone were being proffered, friend.
'The Prisoner of Shark Island' with Paul Muni
Henry is old, old; for Henry remembers
Mr Deeds' tuba, & the Cameo,
& the race in Ben Hur, — The Lost World, with sound,
& The Man from Blankley's, which he did not dig,
nor did he understand one caption of,
bewildered Henry, while the Big Ones laughed.
Now Henry is unmistakably a Big One.
Fúnnee; he don't féel so.
He just stuck around.
The German & the Russian films into
Italian & Japanese films turned, while many
were prevented from making it.
He wishing he could squirm again where Hoot
is just ahead of rustlers, where William S
forgoes some deep advantage, & moves on,
where Hashknife Hartley having the matter taped
the rats are flying. For the rats
have moved in, mostly, and this is for real.
The weather was fine. They took away his teeth,
white & helpful; bothered his backhand;
halved his green hair.
They blew out his loves, his interests. 'Underneath,'
(they called in iron voices) 'understand,
is nothing. So there.'
The weather was very fine. They lifted off
his covers till he showed, and cringed & pled
to see himself less.
They installed mirrors till he flowed. 'Enough'
(murmured they) 'if you will watch Us instead,
yet you may saved be. Yes.'
The weather fleured. They weakened all his eyes,
and burning thumbs into his ears, and shook
his hand like a notch.
They flung long silent speeches. (Off the hook!)
They sandpapered his plumpest hope. (So capsize.)
They took away his crotch.
Deprived of his enemy, shrugged to a standstill
horrible Henry, foaming. Fan their way
toward him who will
in the high wood: the officers, their rest,
with p. a. echoing: his girl comes, say,
conned in to test
if he's still human, see: she love him, see,
therefore she get on the Sheriff's mike & howl
'Come down, come down'.
Therefore he un-budge, furious. He'd flee
but only Heaven hangs over him foul.
At the crossways, downtown,
he dreams the folks are buying parsnips & suds
and paying rent to foes. He slipt & fell.
It's golden here in the snow.
A mild crack: a far rifle. Bogart's duds
truck back to Wardrobe. Fancy the brain from hell
held out so long. Let go.
There were strange gatherings. A vote would come
that would be no vote. There would come a rope.
Yes. There would come a rope.
Men have their hats down. "Dancing in the Dark"
will see him up, car-radio-wise. So many, some
won't find a rut to park.
It is in the administration of rhetoric,
on these occasions, that — not the fathomless heart —
the thinky death consists;
his chest is pinched. The enemy are sick,
and so is us of. Often, to rising trysts,
like this one, drove he out
and the gasps of love, after all, had got him ready.
However things hurt, men hurt worse. He's stark
to be jerked onward?
Yes. In the headlights he got' keep him steady,
leak not, look out over. This' hard work,
boss, wait' for The Word.
His mother goes. The mother comes & goes.
Chen Lung's too came, came and crampt & then
that dragoner's mother was gone.
It seem we don't have no good bed to lie on,
forever. While he drawing his first breath,
while skinning his knees,
while he was so beastly with love for Charlotte Coquet
he skated up & down in front of her house
wishing he could, sir, die,
while being bullied & he dreamt he could fly —
during irregular verbs — them world-sought bodies
safe in the Arctic lay:
Strindberg rocked in his niche, the great Andrée
by muscled Fraenkel under what's of the tent,
torn like then limbs, by bears
over fierce decades, harmless. Up in pairs
go we not, but we have a good bed.
I have said what I had to say.
There is an eye, there was a slit.
Nights walk, and confer on him fear.
The strangler tree, the dancing mouse
confound his vision; then they loosen it.
Henry widens. How did Henry House
himself ever come here?
Nights run. Tes yeux bizarres me suivent
when loth at landfall soft I leave.
The soldiers, Coleridge Rilke Poe,
shout commands I never heard.
They march about, dying & absurd.
Toddlers are taking over. O
ver! Sabbath belling. Snoods converge
on a weary-daring man.
What now can be cleared up? from the Yard the visitors urge.
Belle thro' the graves in a blast of sun
to the kirk moves the youngest witch.
God bless Henry. He lived like a rat,
with a thatch of hair on his head
in the beginning.
Henry was not a coward. Much.
He never deserted anything; instead
he stuck, when things like pity were thinning.
So may be Henry was a human being.
Let's investigate that.
... We did; okay.
He is a human American man.
That's true. My lass is braking.
My brass is aching. Come & diminish me, & map my way.
God's Henry's enemy. We're in business ... Why,
what business must be clear.
I couldn't feel more like it. — Mr Bones,
as I look on the saffron sky,
you strikes me as ornery.
Life, friends, is boring. We must not say so.
After all, the sky flashes, the great sea yearns,
we ourselves flash and yearn,
and moreover my mother told me as a boy
(repeatingly) 'Ever to confess you're bored
means you have no
Inner Resources.' I conclude now I have no
inner resources, because I am heavy bored.
Peoples bore me,
literature bores me, especially great literature,
Henry bores me, with his plights & gripes
as bad as achilles,
who loves people and valiant art, which bores me.
And the tranquil hills, & gin, look like a drag
and somehow a dog
has taken itself & its tail considerably away
into mountains or sea or sky, leaving
behind: me, wag.
Excerpted from 77 Dream Songs by John Berryman. Copyright © 2014 Henri Cole. Excerpted by permission of Farrar, Straus and Giroux.
All rights reserved. No part of this excerpt may be reproduced or reprinted without permission in writing from the publisher.
Excerpts are provided by Dial-A-Book Inc. solely for the personal use of visitors to this web site.
Table of Contents
Introduction by Henri Cole: "Deep in the Mess of Things" xiii
Author's Note xxiii
1 Huffy Henry 3
2 Big Buttons, Cornets: the advance 4
3 A Stimulant for an Old Beast 5
4 Filling her compact & delicious body 6
5 Henry sats 7
6 A Capital at Wells 8
7 'The Prisoner of Shark Island' with Paul Muni 9
8 The weather was fine 10
9 Deprived of his enemy 11
10 There were strange gatherings 12
11 His mother goes 13
12 Sabbath 14
13 God bless Henry 15
14 Life, friends 16
15 Let us suppose 17
16 Henry's pelt 18
17 Muttered Henry 19
18 A Strut for Roethke 20
19 Here, whence 21
20 The Secret of the Wisdom 22
21 Some good people 23
22 Of 1826 24
23 The Lay of Ike 25
24 Oh servant Henry 26
25 Henry, edged 27
26 The glories of the world 28
27 The greens of the Ganges delta 31
28 Snow Line 32
29 There sat down, once 33
30 Collating bones 34
31 Henry Hankovitch 35
32 And where, friend Quo 36
33 An apple arc'd 37
34 My mother has your shotgun 38
35 MLA 9
36 The high ones die 40
37 Three around the Old Gentleman His malice 41
38 The Russian grin 42
39 Goodbye, sir 43
40 I'm scared a lonely 44
41 If we sang in the wood 45
42 O journeyer 46
43 'Oyez, oyez!' 47
44 Tell it to the forest fire 48
45 He stared at ruin 49
46 I am, outside. 50
47 April Fool's Day, or, St Mary of Egypt 51
48 He yelled at me in Greek 52
49 Blind 53
50 In a motion of night 54
51 Our wounds to time 55
52 Silent Song 59
53 He lay in the middle of the world 60
54 'NO VISITORS' 61
55 Peter's not friendly 62
56 Hell is empty 63
57 In a state of chottle sin 64
58 Industrious, affable 65
59 Henry's Meditation in the Kremlin 66
60 Afters eight years 67
61 Full moon 68
62 That dark-brown rabbit 69
63 Bats have no bankers 70
64 Supreme my holdings 71
65 A freaking ankle 72
66 'All virtues 73
67 I don't operate often 74
68 I heard, could be 75
69 Love her he doesn't 76
70 Disengaged, bloody 77
71 Spellbound 78
72 The Elder Presences 79
73 Karesansui, Ryoan-ji 80
74 Henry hates the world 81
75 Turning it over 82
76 Henry's Confession 83
77 Seedy Henry 84